Radio26.Cu – Matanzas, Cuba


Federico Smith in the musical mystery of Matanzas (+ audio).

Tamara Caridad Mesa González 22 febrero, 2021


The extraordinary North American musician Federico Smith, whose symphonic work was inspired by the Athens of Cuba, is named to the Chamber Music Festival, promoted by the Professional School of Art of Matanzas. The only one in the country in its category, it will begin in its fourth edition this Monday until Friday 26th  of the current one dedicated this year to Dr. José Antonio Méndez Valencia, who was recently awarded as a Youth Teacher.

The event includes conferences and concerts, by teachers and students of the aforementioned school, online, on the Facebook platform and the YouTube channel, which allows you to search for it at any time for the enjoyment of lovers of the genre.

In order to delve into this event and what the figure of Smith means for Matanzas and national culture, we spoke to the musicologist Lourdes Fernández Valhuerdi: “The head of the Chair and pianist, the master María de los Ángeles Horta Fernández created this important event, in which both teachers and students of different levels of musical education act and a theoretical-research space of great benefit for pedagogy and The learning.

It has been held for four courses and given the epidemiological situation of Covid-19, the teacher has organized it using social networks. “The Chamber Music Festival is named after Federico Smith, an outstanding American musician, based in Cuba, a singular personality within the national artistic universe. Much less is known about his work than was due.

He came to Cuba at the hands of the Mexican Alfonso Arau, to promote musical theater in Havana in the 1960s and delighted with all the boost that the Revolution provided to culture, he stayed in our country until his death, which it happened here in Matanzas. “This land was the place where he settled and practiced his pedagogy, to the point that his main work was illuminated by the symphonic poem Matanzas 281, on the occasion of the founding anniversary of the first modern city in Cuba.

He presented it in 1975 to the FAR July 26 contest and won the first Prize in Orchestral Music. It was later premiered at the Sauto theater. It is an immense work, composed for a symphony orchestra, band, choir, four narrators, batá drums and electro-acoustic media. It is a great piece that intertwines the music of African heritage with the Spanish and Creole harmonies. »

He also obtained the following awards at the National Music Composition Competition «July 26″: in 1969 he was a Symphonic Music Prize: Music for two saxophones and orchestra; in 1971, Chamber Music Prize: Music for Orchestra No. 3; in 1973, Choral Music Prize: Simple Verses; in 1976, Prize for Symphonic Music: Open Letter and in that same year Mention in Chamber Music: Quintet About his other compositions within chamber music and symphonism, the specialist points out: “Her repertoire is wide but unknown, her symphony Matanzas 281 has been performed only twice, due to the complexity of its performance; therefore the choice of this figure to title the festival is a recognition of his relevance and to spread the word about this musician, who we can say from Matanzas, because this is where he composed most of his pieces. » 

A flash apart I remember Federico Smith in his assiduous visits to the Gener y del Monte library, where I would see him at sunset surrounded by books or when he would sit on one of the benches in La Libertad park with a cigarette between his fingers or he would walk slowly to your accommodation at the back of an old Plastic Arts workshop on Milanés street between Santa Teresa and Zaragoza.

He was a striking man, taller than six feet, very large in my eyes, with a certain sloppiness to dress, gray hair and a luminous forehead, he had very large hands and feet and he smiled at walkers who, like him, listened the sounds hidden in the unintelligible houses of the city. Following the route Delving into Smith’s life and career, Lourdes Fernández indicates: “For people in Matanzas he was a special being. Born on March 2nd, 1929, in Manhattan, New York, he studied piano in Boston with Professor Klaus Goetzery.

In truth, what we know is that his formation was leftist and therefore he left the United States for Mexico in 1950 where he spent the night with natives of that country. He works as a music critic for the magazine «Politics» and on that stage he is met by Arau, who suggests that he come to Cuba when the Revolution triumphs and he did so.

 “Upon arriving in this nation, he confirmed his desire to stay and came to teach. His imprint extends to his relationship with the ICAIC Sound Experimentation Group and his ties to Leo Brauwer, who selected him as a teacher between 1969 and 1972. Sara, Silvio, Pablo, Eduardo Ramos, Emiliano Salvador, Sergio Vitier received his teachings. “In Matanzas she interacts with great musicians such as Ildefonso Acosta, president of the UNEAC branch, Hilda Elvira Santiago, Iraida Trujillo, among others, and she composes, offers lectures, teaches with passion in music schools.

But he led a bohemian life, in his personal twist, which ultimately led him to death at 49 years old. » He is considered as one of the exponents of the Cuban musical avant-garde and, at the same time, a «sui generis» pedagogue. His extensive catalog includes works written for dramatized spaces on Cuban radio and television during his stay in the capital.

We will be able to know and deepen this enchanting personality this Monday 22nd on the Facebook and YouTube platforms, dedicated to the IV Festival, when the Federico Smith conference is presented. Cosmopolitanism and Vanguard, master’s thesis Liliana González Moreno, musicologist and professor, who has been a jury for the 2011 Argeliers León Musicology Prize and the Annual Prize for cultural research, convened by the Juan Marinello Center in 2016.





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